Wednesday, September 26, 2012

CBR4 #42 A Good American by Alex George

An uplifting novel about the families we create and the places we call home.It is 1904. When Frederick and Jette must flee her disapproving mother, where better to go than America, the land of the new? Originally set to board a boat to New York, at the last minute, they take one destined for New Orleans instead ("What's the difference? They're both new"), and later find themselves, more by chance than by design, in the small town of Beatrice, Missouri. Not speaking a word of English, they embark on their new life together. Beatrice is populated with unforgettable characters: a jazz trumpeter from the Big Easy who cooks a mean gumbo, a teenage boy trapped in the body of a giant, a pretty schoolteacher who helps the young men in town learn about a lot more than just music, a minister who believes he has witnessed the Second Coming of Christ, and a malevolent, bicycle-riding dwarf. A Good American is narrated by Frederick and Jette's grandson, James, who, in telling his ancestors' story, comes to realize he doesn't know his own story at all. From bare-knuckle prizefighting and Prohibition to sweet barbershop harmonies, the Kennedy assassination, and beyond, James's family is caught up in the sweep of history. Each new generation discovers afresh what it means to be an American. And, in the process, Frederick and Jette's progeny sometimes discover more about themselves than they had bargained for.
This book was heartwarming and George is a good storyteller which draws the reader into the story. Music is key to the plot and becomes a courting method for multiple characters. I appreciated the way George intertwined the historical events and culture of the time into the fictional plot. Having the book being told from the grandson's perspective really did give a different take on the story.  Overall there was an ongoing search for what home is and means to each of the characters.

This book is a good portrait of creating a family and adjusting to other cultures as an immigrant.  The last part of the book surfaces an interesting plot twist but overall causes an awkward ending. I appreciated how George explored how each generation discovered what it means to be an American.

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